Japanese culture is one of high romance, both historical and modern. The unique challenges of Japanese romance heroes and heroines hold up to those of Western romances such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, but they offer a unique setting and window into a world that is very new for many romance readers.

If you are looking for some romance novels to read written by well known Japanese authors, check out our list of the 10 most popular Japanese romance novels.

1. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Photo Credit: Amazon.com.

This striking, clean, and quirky book is about the young woman Tsukiko. Her life is at a bit of a dead-end and has grown very lonely after a series of failed relationships. However, one night at a bar, she runs into an old high school teacher whose name she can’t remember. Over time, they start to grow closer and closer.

Strange Weather in Tokyo” is a May-December romance, and focuses quite a bit on the food of Japan, making it a great way to learn what some of the unique foods of Japan taste like before you give them a try yourself, all while enjoying the unfolding romance. The writing is spare in many places with simple elegance, and it occasionally branches off into a dreamlike tone. It is well worth a read for those looking for an unconventional romance story.

2. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen is a story about a young woman who has to overcome the death of her grandmother while finding her own footing in the cooking world and perhaps even love. The book received glowing reviews all over the world when it was first published in English 1993 (its original publication was in 1983 in Japanese).

It received multiple awards, including the 6th Kaien Newcomer Writers Prize in 1987 and the 9th Best Newcomer Artists in 1988. The book touched so many that two movies, a TV movie out of Japan in 1989 and a feature film out of Hong Kong in 1997, have been made of it.

3. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Set mostly in late 1960s Tokyo, this novel follows Tou Watanabe as he reminisces on his relationships with troubled Naoko and the lively Midori. Most of the characters are university students and the times as well as their emotions are troubled.

Nothing is simple for these young people as they navigate through life and relationships. Suicide, and the effects it has on surviving friends and family, is a common theme. In 2020, a film adaptation of the book was released. When the book was published in 1987, it was hugely popular, and modern readers who give it a look will know why.

4. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

Distinctly Japanese, this story tells the tale of a young upper-class man who is in love with a provincial geisha who works as a prostitute in a hot spring town. Because of the limitations of the time and the way their respective classes worked, their relationship was doomed from the start.

It is a stark story and makes excellent use of brief scenes to tell its story. It is one of the three novels cited by the Nobel Committee when they decided to award its author, Yasunari Kawabata, the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968. Buy this Japanese novel here.

5. The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

This book explores the saga of Shinji, the son of a pearl diver and her now-dead fisherman husband, and the daughter of a wealthy shipowner, the beautiful Hatsue. The prospect of wealth and the return of long-forgotten acquaintances spurs jealousy and violence as the pair court and eventually fall in love as they face adversity and come of age.

It is fascinating to explore the intricacies of this coastal community and its challenges after the war. This incredible romance has spurred multiple live-action and animated adaptations and is deeply beloved by readers.

6. Autofiction by Hitomi Kanehara

A weird, strange book meant to be (potentially) read as a fictional autobiography. The main character, Rin, may have mental issues, especially when it comes to obsessing and being jealous of her loved ones, but she may not. The book is twisted and strange, with a dark sense of humor far from your average romance.

Keep in mind that this book is not for everyone; it is occasionally disturbing and may seem gross to some readers and juvenile to many more. There may also be some disturbing translation issues. However, if you’re looking for something different, Autofiction is worth a try.

7. Socrates in Love by Kyoichi Katayama

This hit book has become a franchise unto itself in its native country. It is the touching and heart-wrenching story of love between an average high school girl and a popular guy. As the two grow closer, the girl falls ill with leukemia.

The book tackles many of these issues as seen from the young man’s point of view in a way that tugs powerfully at the heartstrings. How do you go through life knowing you’ve lost your one true love? For those looking to read a true romance of Japan, pick up Socrates in Love.

8. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

This is another odd tale, one more about the war between conformity and nonconformity that is taking place in Japan. Keiko finds people difficult and has worked at a convenience store for much of her life, ordering her life around its detailed regulations and relying on them to develop relationships with others.

When the opportunity to take the pressure off comes by having something like a relationship with an equally odd man, Shiraha, she takes it, though not all is as it seems. Keiko is a quirky narrator and the story reflects this. It is a weirdly funny read that highlights issues found today for many young Japanese women. You can read this book here.

9. The Ten Loves of Mr. Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami

The Ten Loves of Nishino” is a set of ten short stories centered on the womanizer Mr. Nishino. It is a bit of a fantasy novel, as we start off with him appearing as a ghost. The book is not just about his inability to commit, but also details why the ten women in the stories struggle with commitment as well. This book is deeper than its initial drama hints at and well worth a read.

10. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Due to an accident, the Professor of this novel only has a short-term memory of 80 minutes. The narrator, the Housekeeper, is a single mother who now struggles to help this man who only really connects to others through numbers. The two connect through her son, who the Professor teaches math and starts to share his love as he would with a son. This is a sweet story littered with references to mathematics, making it very unconventional. Here you can order you copy!